Special Ops: Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF)

This program employs a culturally responsive and strengths-based framework to build relationships and effectively engage and empower SMVF to find effective solutions to the specific issues they face.

Nicholas CioeNicholas Cioe, Ph.D. Director
The impact of the post 9/11 wars was being felt in all areas of education and human services. Our journey of education, immersion, consultation, and collaboration led to many institutional improvements that increase the likelihood of success for our SMVF, but it also resulted in the creation of the Special Ops: SMVF graduate certificate program. This 6 – 8 course graduate level program is designed to skill-up civilians and those who are military connected so they can better meet the needs of those impacted by military service. It is designed as a fully asynchronous online program so people from throughout the country (and world) can meaningfully engage the content and complete the program in one year. It has been reviewed and approved by the VA for support through their various education programs and has graduated multiple cohorts of students comprised of veterans, veteran spouses/dependents/siblings, and those in various human service fields who were compelled to acquire the skills needed to help those who sacrificed for the freedoms and lifestyle so many take for granted. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher and want to learn the skills that will prepare you to meet the needs of SMVF, please consider enrolling or learning more about this amazing program.

Graduate Virtual Information Sessions

Special Ops: Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF) Program Contact

Stephanie E. Plotkin Murin, M.Ed.

Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions
508-767-7105 Admissions House - Room 203

Nicholas J. Cioe, Ph.D.

Associate Professor , Director of Rehabilitation Counseling, Coordinator of SMVF Program, Core Faculty Member in Rehabilitation Counseling
508-767-7063 Kennedy Building - Room 107c

Caroline Rauscher

Academic Affairs Support Team
508-767-7390 Kennedy Hall - Room 123

SMVF Program

  • Although graduate coursework, it is accessible to individuals with and without previous graduate education. Those who have not served will distinguish themselves from other applicants applying to work with SMVF.  Those who have served will gain important knowledge, skills, and attitudes to help SMVF.  Many Veterans who already work with the SMVF population have expressed excitement about how the coursework will help them to be more effective with their SMVF clients.

    Students completing the Special Ops: SMVF program will:

    • Understand military culture to enable successful engagement with SMVF
    • Understand the physical and psychological effects of war on SMVF and employ a developmental framework to understanding the experience of SMVF
    • Have knowledge about service-related injuries, disabilities, and treatment including specialized knowledge about polytrauma
    • Have a current understanding about blast injury
    • Understand the functional limitations associated with service-related injuries, disabilities, and chronic illnesses and possess knowledge about health, wellness and prevention strategies aimed at minimizing residual health impairments, functional limitations and secondary disabilities (including the unique health care needs of women service members and Veterans)
    • Gain an increased sensitivity in understanding barriers and special considerations for SMVF in the Navigation process and employ a comprehensive understanding of a roadmap to assist Veteran clients with enrollment in various care systems, as well as access to care and benefits.
    • Understand important factors to consider and techniques to use when establishing a counseling relationship with SMVF
    • Comprehend the Integrative Healthcare philosophy and be able to utilize this approach when involved in treatment planning
    • Understand and apply the applicable theories and models of stress, trauma, and resilience.
    • Consider the ongoing interplay of individual, family, community, sociocultural, and spiritual influences on risk and resilience.
    • Understand the family life cycle and the research-informed family resilience framework for intervention and prevention to strengthen key family processes in overcoming adversity.
    • Strengthen students’ inner abilities and practice strategies for overcoming life’s difficulties as self-reflective helping professionals.
  • Since the United States military initiated its response to the September 11th, 2001 attack, over 1.9 million US military personnel have been deployed in 3 million tours of duty lasting more than 30 days (Institute of Medicine, 2010).  These service members who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation New Dawn (OND), and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in Iraq constitute a new generation of veterans. The Veterans’ Administration reports that between 2002 and 2015, 1.9 million veterans who served in these wars became eligible for VA services but the total estimated number of Veteran’s leaving the military from 2003 – 2019 is an estimated 4.3 million (the difference based on those who qualify for VA services having been discharged from the military in good standing) (Zogas, 2017).

    The service members for the post-9/11 wars involve a different type of member than military combats of the past.  The current conflicts involve a larger number of reservists than past combats have seen. It is estimated that, at any one point in time, 30-50% of military personnel deployed are reservists (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008). Compared to active personnel, reservists are more likely to be older, married with children, and have been employed prior to deployment. In addition, compared to past wars, more females are serving in combat areas; approximately 14% of the total military force in 2007 was women (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, 2007).

    U.S. Military personnel return with complex physical, psychological and emotional trauma. Partly because of advances in medical treatment and protective equipment, the survival rate for military personnel injured in OIF/OEF is over 90% (Hyer, 2006). However, many military personnel who are injured experience serious and severe injuries that result in complex challenges when transitioning to veteran status after military service is completed.  The “signature injury” for these post-9/11 wars has been Polytrauma – injuries that occur to the brain as well as other body parts or systems resulting in physical, cognitive, psychological, or psychosocial impairments and functional disability (Veterans Health Administration, 2005).  The resulting “polytraumatic” injuries require significant coordination of care in the areas of physical, occupational, psycho-social and psychiatric rehabilitation (Veterans Health Administration, 2005).

    Frain, Bishop and Bethel (2010) indicate that the number of military personnel experiencing disabilities in the present military conflicts is the largest in 30 years and that these numbers will continue to increase even after military action has ended.  The most common and prevalent injuries of military personnel are Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depression, and Amputations (Veterans Health Administration, 2005; Hyer, 2006; Fischer, 2008; Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008; Seal, Bertenthal, Miner, Sen, & Marmer, 2007). In the general population, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is higher than for people without disabilities. This is also true of military personnel with disabilities who tend to experience higher rates of unemployment compared to military personnel without disabilities.  The presence of a disability is an additional challenge for veterans and service providers assisting veterans in their transition from military service (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006). Furthermore, homelessness is a significant problem for veterans with estimates citing 76,000 veterans were homeless on any given night in 2009 with about 136,000 veterans having spent at least one night in a shelter during that same year (Tiron, 2011).

    Veterans of the post-9/11 wars reported adjustment difficulties at rates between 61% – 68% (Kintzle, Rasheed & Castro, 2016). The rates are much higher than the 30% estimate of OEF/OIF/OND Veterans diagnosed with PTSD (Cifu et al., 2013).  The VA made policy changes in 2008 to streamline the process for new Veterans to enroll in the system (Public Law 110-181).  The law establishes that Veterans can enroll in the VA and immediately begin receiving care in the first five years after leaving the military without first completing the bureaucratic process of getting a combat-related disability officially recognized. This policy change made it possible for “transitioning” veterans to receive supportive services (including group and individual counseling, and educational support) without the need for these services to be straightforwardly linked to medical diagnoses (Zogas, 2017).

    In recent years, the VA has faced increasing concerns about Veterans’ access to care and the quality of care delivered. In response to these concerns, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“Veterans Choice Act”) was enacted in August 2014. The law attempted to address access issues by expanding the criteria through which Veterans can seek care from civilian providers (Farmer, Hosek, & Adamson, 2016).  Many Veterans find private providers and non-profits that offer confidential, bureaucracy-free access to timely mental health services a positive and desirable alternative to VA processes (VA Center for Innovation and the Public Policy Lab, 2016).

  • Assumption Veteran's at the Pentagon.

    Assumption University, rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition, strives to form graduates known for critical intelligence, thoughtful citizenship, and compassionate service. In addition to its New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation, it regularly receives recognition and accolades for value and academic quality.  In addition to its undergraduate liberal arts degree programs, Assumption University also offers 11 graduate programs including several in the Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies (HSRS) department.

    The Rehabilitation Counseling program, housed within the HSRS Department, is a nationally ranked, CACREP accredited master’s degree program. It offers both a campus and online program preparing individuals for the national Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential. The HSRS department takes an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach when evaluating service delivery needs and developing culturally responsive programs to meet those needs. Working with personnel from the Health Advocacy program, scholars developed the Resiliency in the Helping Professions certificate program to support career longevity in the rehabilitation and school counseling, education and mental health fields.  Working with personnel from the Special Education department, scholars developed a Transition Specialist certificate program to provide training to individuals interested in helping students with disabilities explore and develop career identities as well as develop the skills needed to successfully transition into post-secondary education, training, and employment after completing high school.

    Rehabilitation Counseling professionals are uniquely prepared, trained, and qualified to provide services aimed at mitigating and accommodating limitations associated with disability. Rehabilitation Services and Rehabilitation Counseling as professions stemmed from the 1918 Soldier’s Rehabilitation Act where breakthrough legislation was designed to mandate programs to rehabilitate Veterans with disabilities.  Rehabilitation professions are inherently linked to the service of Veterans again substantiating the appropriateness of rehabilitation training programs to continue this significant work.  A review of the literature in the area of veterans issues and a national search of educational programs providing education and training to students interested in serving veterans and military personnel revealed the existence of relatively few programs.  While there are opportunities for self-paced training about military culture or specific clinical interventions to consider when addressing military trauma, there is a lack of programs that take a coordinated approach to meeting the needs of Service Members, Veterans, and their families (SMVF).

    Recognizing the significant challenges of drawing meaningful boundaries between mental health concerns, physical health concerns, and social concerns that manifest in Veterans’ lives, the Rehabilitation Counseling, School Counseling, and Health Advocacy program directors, with support from an Assumption University Faculty Development Grant, initiated a training and program development process to develop the knowledge, skills, and contacts needed to create a specialized certificate program dedicated to improving human service delivery for SMVF. This process included participation in Operation Immersion – an innovative four-day “Mobilization Training” experience that engages behavioral health and other healthcare providers in their respective areas of study to learn how to address some of the challenges faced by today’s SMVF. This experience, along with significant research, has informed the creation of the “Special Ops” Certificate Program.

  • Required Courses
    HRS 210 *Medical Aspects of Chronic Illness & Disability (or equivalent/approved experience)
    HRS 330 *Interviewing Techniques in Human Services & Rehabilitation Studies (or equivalent/approved experience)
    SOP 700 **Basic Training: Foundations of Working with SMVF
    SOP 710 Disability & Treatment: Polytrauma
    SOP 715 Disability & Treatment: Physical, Sensory and Psychiatric
    SOP 720 Systems Navigation for SMVF
    SOP 730 Counseling Interventions & Strategies with SMVF
    SOP 740 Strengthening Resilience for the SMVF

    *May be required as foundational courses depending on applicant’s background in the field and or military experience.

    **Individuals who have served can choose an elective in place of this course

  • Required Courses
    SOP 700 **Basic Training: Foundations of Working with SMVF
    SOP 710 Disability & Treatment: Polytrauma
    SOP 715 Disability and Treatment: Physical, Sensory & Psychiatric
    SOP 720 Systems Navigation for SMVF
    SOP 730 Counseling Interventions & Strategies with SMVF
    SOP 740 Strengthening Resilience for the SMVF

    **Individuals who have served can choose an elective in place of this course

  • SOP 700:  Basic Training: Foundations of Working with Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF)

    This course covers the foundational information required of culturally responsive professionals to work effectively with Service Members, Veterans and their Families (SMVF). The course provides students with an understanding of military culture that includes the important military lexicon, branches, structure, rank system and rituals. The course employs a developmental framework when considering military family life that may include multiple deployments. The effects of war on service members and their families is examined and the important transition back to civilian life is covered. An overview of service-related injuries is included in this course including deployment-related trauma. The course introduces a number of SMVF content areas such as LGBT military members, sexual assault, suicide and suicide prevention, substance abuse and prevention, homelessness and family secondary trauma. A military immersion experience is a requirement of this course.

    SOP 710:  Disability & Treatment: Polytrauma

    This course covers injuries associated with “Polytrauma” including extensive information related to the three hallmarks of polytrauma: brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain. The course covers information regarding the prevalence, symptoms, and characteristics associated with polytrauma injuries with an emphasis on treatment modalities and skill development to guide treatment planning to mitigate disabilities related to polytrauma.

    SOP 715: Disability and Treatment: Physical, Sensory and Psychiatric 

    This course covers service-related injuries, disabilities and chronic illnesses. Specifically, the course is focused on physical, sensory and psychiatric disorders acquired via military service. The course covers both historic and present-day disorders dating back to the Vietnam War era. Characteristics, including functional limitations and vocational implications, of disorders such as traumatic amputations, musculoskeletal injuries, burn injuries, hearing impairments, visual impairments, chemical, biological and radiological exposure, infectious diseases, depression, substance use disorders, blast-related injuries and the psychological impact of physical and mental torture. Treatment modalities employed for these disorders are covered along with prevention strategies to prevent secondary disabilities.

    SOP 720: Systems Navigation for Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF) 

    This course provides a comprehensive overview of the VA integrated health care system. The distinct and specialized medical facilities, clinics, benefit offices and systems that are specifically developed to serve service members, veterans, and their families will also be covered. This course will provide the necessary knowledge, skill and expertise to determine priority groups and eligibility for services as well as determining benefits and assisting SMVF with enrolling, navigating and accessing care and benefits. A case management approach will be emphasized to prepare professionals for the coordination of appropriate benefits, treatment and care for SMVF.

    SOP 730:  Counseling Interventions & Strategies with Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF)

    This course covers the competencies needed to develop and practice the appropriate, relevant and sensitive strategies to work with SMVF. This course employs a culturally sensitive and strengths-based framework to build relationships and effectively engage and empower SMVF to find effective solutions to the specific issues faced. Solution-focused techniques, interventions and strategies will be covered and practiced with the goal of short-term counseling and therapy. Long-term strategies will also be covered for diagnoses requiring more intense counseling interventions. An integrated healthcare approach with a focus on lifestyle-oriented interventions to promote whole person health and wellness will be emphasized when working with SMVF.

    SOP 740 Strengthening Resilience for Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF)

    This course provides strong grounding in theories about stress and resilience that have a connection to practice with SMVF. The stress and resilience research and theoretical underpinnings will be covered and best practices that build resiliency skills in the helping professional as well as SMVF will be examined. This course employs a trauma-informed, strengths-based, lifespan and ecological framework to develop the skills necessary to assist SMVF to cultivate post traumatic growth as a result of the profound demands, stressors and traumatic events associated with the military experience. The course emphasizes evidence-based strategies for the prevention of adverse outcomes after traumatic experiences.



Nicholas J. Cioe, Ph.D.
Program Director Associate Professor Director of Rehabilitation Counseling Coordinator of SMVF Program Core Faculty Member in Rehabilitation Counseling
Susan Scully, Ph.D.
Program Co-Developer Associate Professor of Human Services Director of School Counseling Core Faculty Member in Rehabilitation Counseling
Lea F. Christo, MSW, LICSW, BCPA
Program Co-Developer Associate Professor of Practice, Human Services & Rehab Studies School of Graduate Studies School Counseling Program; Coordinator of Resiliency in Helping Professions Program
Jennifer Baublitz, MA/ CAGS
Lecturer, Psychology Undergraduate Program, School Counseling and SMVF Graduate Programs
Nicole Robert
Lecturer, SOP Graduate Program
Gary R Senecal, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Human Services
Justin Somers
Lecturer, Rehabilitation Counseling and SOP Graduate Programs

Graduate Admission Events and Ways to Connect With Us

We invite you to learn more about our graduate programs - either through a visit to campus, attending an information session or by scheduling a phone or virtual conversation with an admissions team member or one of our program directors.

Admissions Requirements


  • B.A. or B.S. for admission in the Special Ops: SMVF Program Certificate of Graduate Study (C.G.S.)
  • M.A. or M.S. for admission in the Special Ops: SMVF Program Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (C.A.G.S.)

Application Requirements:

  • Graduate Application
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Official Transcript(s)
  • Personal Statement
  • Current Resume
  • TOEFL or IELTS for applicants whose native language is not English
Tuition & Financial Aid

Members of Veterans Success Committee Take Assumption to Boston-Brockton VA Expo

Assumption University, a recognized Yellow Ribbon and Military-Friendly institution of higher learning, joined the VA of Boston and Brockton for their Annual Veterans Expo.

Honoring Those Who Served, Not Just on Veterans Day

In recognition of the selfless sacrifices made by many – including alumni – Assumption University remembered and recognized Veterans through its second annual Veterans Day Observance Ceremony as well as marked its commitment to its student veterans with the formal announcement of a number of new programs for student-veterans including the ribbon cutting of a new Veterans’ Lounge, a new academic program and services to help student-veterans.

Veterans at Assumption

Assumption University recognizes that servicemen and women have demonstrated great courage and made tremendous sacrifices in service to our nation and its people. The University has introduced a number of programs and services to assist veterans during the application process and while veterans are attending Assumption. Some of these services include an application fee waiver and a lounge designated only for our veteran students. Assumption University is committed to attaining and maintaining recognition as a Top 10 Military Friendly institution.  We strive to eliminate barriers to success for our Service Members, Veterans, and their qualified dependents. Welcoming Veterans

American and NATO Veteran Reintegration: The Trauma of Social Isolation and Cultural Chasms

Assumption Professor of Human Services Gary Senecal, Ph.D., has recently published a book, American and NATO Veteran Reintegration: The Trauma of Social Isolation and Cultural Chasms (Lexington Books) that examines mental health issues among former American service members.

Graduate Research Symposium

Assumption University Graduate School Annual Symposium showcases research, innovative projects, successful case study, and creative work of graduate students and recent alums from every graduate program. We offer all graduate students in every program an opportunity to present their excellent work on diverse topics.

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